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Grab Yer Guns: Tea Party and Patriot Movements Converge

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In today's New York Tmes, reporter David Barstow offers the first major  mainstream media exposé I've seen of the overlap between the Tea Party and Patriot movements, as well as the influence of the militia movement on the Tea Party ideology.

AlterNet first reported on this phenomenon last summer, during the season of the town-hall riot, noting the organizing of Patriot movement types via the Web site ResistNet, whose parent organization, Grassfire, bears the endorsement of Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

Barstow connects the dots between ResistNet's organizing, the influence of the John Birch Society and other armed-dystopian factions of the American right into the undulating, leaderless and paranoid force that bears the Tea Party brand, noting the economic terror that led them there -- with the help of Fox News:

With [Glenn Beck's] guidance, they explored the Federalist Papers, exposés on the Federal Reserve, the work of Ayn Rand and George Orwell. Some went to constitutional seminars. Online, they discovered radical critiques of Washington on Web sites like ResistNet.com (“Home of the Patriotic Resistance”) and Infowars.com (“Because there is a war on for your mind.”).

Many describe emerging from their research as if reborn to a new reality. Some have gone so far as to stock up on ammunition, gold and survival food in anticipation of the worst. For others, though, transformation seems to amount to trying on a new ideological outfit — embracing the rhetoric and buying the books.

I have long believed that liberals and progressives fail habitually fail to address the fear that drives some Americans to the far right, whether to the Patriot movement or the religious right. Right-wing movements ascend in times of economic hardship, and unless progressives find emotional and visceral ways to address the attendant fear, the phenomenon will simply continue.

Addressing fear does not mean saying, "We know what's good for you, and here are 12 programs that will cure what ails you." To address people's fears, you have to take those fears seriously, and come up with things that people can do to improve their own lot. What the Tea Party movement offers people is the feeling that they, themselves are on the road to fixing their country and their own situation.

No, I'm not saying that everybody can be brought along to the progressive side. But I do believe that a number of desperate following-on types could be enticed to the other side if it offered the solace of work for just rewards.

The fundamental sentiment of the Tea Party is distrust of government. But that doesn't mean that government shouldn't try to fix the problem. Those who control the government (the last time I looked, they were Democrats) could make a better case for goverment by directly putting people to work on government projects, supplying broadband to rural areas and creating robust bail-out programs for those on the verge of losing their homes.

Would this work? Who knows? But it couldn't hurt.